Martha Beck discusses ways to live on after losing a loved one.
If you’ve had a loss, a loved one, a relationship, a dream, you are not going to be able to go on just sort of moving straight ahead and improving your life in every way that would be shown on TV as a dramatic example of happy living.
We really, when we run into such an event, I call it a catalytic event, it’s a bit like a caterpillar getting the trigger that says it’s time to become a butterfly.
And the first thing the caterpillars do after they make their cocoons is not to start sprouting wings and antennae, it is to dissolve.
They actually dissolve into what looks like a liquid. If you cut the cocoon open it just spills out there’s nothing that looks like a living organism.
And after a severe loss, a job, a loved one, we feel ourselves dissolving. It’s as though the ego we had, the self we are, has to just disappear.
And I call this the stage of death and rebirth and as Eckhart Tolle says, the secret to life is to die before you die and so to learn that there is no death.
But that dissolving is terrifying for most people. Just know that it’s okay. You are supposed to fall apart before you can be made new.
And then after a while when the caterpillar is completely dissolved a chemical trigger tells certain cells to begin restructuring all that caterpillar soup into a butterfly.
And you will experience that after you’ve grieved for a while as the reawakening of hopes and dreams and they are not things you’ve had before.
The caterpillar doesn’t have butterfly dreams. It can’t even imagine what a butterfly can do.
But you will find after you’ve gone through the grieving and dissolving that new things start to appeal to you and you need to really pay attention to your heart and follow those things and I call this dreaming and scheming.
You will first have dreams, then you will start to make them into actual schemes and then you go into the phase I call emerging, or the hero’s journey, and this is when the butterfly cuts the top off the cocoon and pulls itself out and this is hard.
It’s not an easy emerging. The butterfly struggles. It’s vulnerable. It can’t fly, but if you cut the cocoon to try to help it out, the butterfly will die and the harder it struggles, the longer it lives.
So building the new life in this new way after a loss is hard at first but that’s okay, that’s part of the process.
And then after a while you get to the place where you have sort of mastered this new state of being and I call that the promised land or flying.
It’s when you are the butterfly and you can just take wing in a way you could never even imagine when you are a caterpillar.
About Martha Beck:
Martha Beck, Ph.D., is a writer and life coach who specializes in helping people design satisfying and meaningful life experiences. She holds a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies and master's and Ph.D. degrees in sociology, all from Harvard University. She has published academic books and articles on a variety of social science and business topics.
Her non-academic books include the New York Times bestsellers “Expecting Adam” and “Leaving the Saints,” as well as “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live” and her newest book, “Steering by Starlight.” Dr. Beck has also been a contributing editor for many popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook, and is currently a columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine.